Laminate Flooring
John Simonson


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Laminates

The hottest new product in flooring across the United States has been laminate flooring. Although the Europeans have enjoyed laminate floors for approximately 20 years, these floors are still relatively new to Americans.|

Most people are familiar with the laminate counter tops, such as Formica, but have never seen a laminate suitable for walking on in the home. Many companies like Formica, Mannington, and Pergo, have all jumped into the American Laminate Flooring market.

What is Laminate Flooring
An Overview of Laminate Flooring Construction
Laminate Flooring Installation Tips
Frequently Asked Questions About Laminate Flooring

What is Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is a tongue and groove interlocking flooring system that floats on top of the existing substrate. The substrate could be a new wood sub floor, a concrete slab, an existing vinyl floor, a hardwood floor, or many other existing flooring types. The word "floating" is a flooring term that means the new floor is not attached to the floor underneath. To create the floating floor all that is required is a bead of specially formulated, water-resistant, glue be placed between the tongue and grooves of every plank to hold the planks together and to seal all the edges of the planks from moisture. A special polyurethane padding is laid down prior to the new laminate flooring being installed, which prevents the glue from sticking to the substrate. The product itself is basically made up of a hard core material that has a laminated printed layer and a special backing, that are secured to the core and then saturated in plastic-type resins, called melamine. The laminate floors are really quite similar to the Formica counter tops. What makes this a great flooring system is the extremely tough melamine resins in the wear layer combined with the floating installation method.

By using the existing technology found in counter tops and adding considerably more resins to the wear layer these materials become an ideal substrate for floor coverings. Matter of fact, some laminate floor manufacturers boast that their laminate floors are 10 to 20 times harder than laminate counter tops. Since this resin-filled wear layer is so dense, it becomes extremely difficult to stain, scratch, or burn with a cigarette. Although it is possible to scratch any of the floors if you really try hard.

Aesthetically, most of the floors we have seen have a wood grain visual appearance. there are some new more abstract type designs are coming to the market, such as sandstones, marbles, and accents. Although most of the laminate floors are made in long rectangular shaped planks there a few square tiles made. The hardwood floor plank appearance is easier to take from a large printed film and transfer it to the laminate's core. Since most of the manufacturers use an approximate 8" wide plank, whatever visual design is being used must be able to fit correctly on a 8" wide plank. What is great about this process is the printed film technology can create an extremely realistic looking hardwood floor in any hardwood species you want. For instance, you could take a hardwood specie that is only found in museums, photograph it, and use it to create a new laminate floor pattern. This allows the average person to purchase a visual look that you could never find in any hardwood flooring store, nor could you afford. Mannington Mills has just introduced some of these type looks in laminate floors and promises to add to their exotic wood visual palette.

Probably the only people that don't like laminate floors are the people selling polishes. Because laminate floors are so dense, they are easy to keep clean and most, if not all, polishes will not stick to their surface area. All that is really required is vacuuming, dust mopping, and maybe a damp towel at times.

Laminate floors are sold by the square foot and are generally a little pricier then most vinyl floors, but should give you many years of lasting beauty. All the floors we have seen carry a 10 to 25 year residential warranty against staining, wearing, and fading. Prior to buying your floor you should read the specific warranty for that manufacturer and also ask what the retail stores warranty is for their installation. FloorSearch is recommending that laminate floors be professionally installed. With the cost of these floors, and the somewhat precise installation methods, you could find yourself replacing a lot of planks if you are not a professional installer and try to go it alone. If you look at installed cost over 15 years this floor is quite reasonable in price and is a great value.


An Overview of Laminate Flooring Construction

There appears to be two types of laminate floor construction. A direct pressure laminate and a high pressure laminate. From our research, the difference appears to be in the process of attaching the materials to the core. The direct pressure laminate is basically a one step process, whereby all the layers are fused directly to the core at the same time, and impregnated with melamine resins using heat and pressure. The direct pressure process is used by both Formica Laminate Flooring and Mannington Laminate Flooring. On the other hand, the high pressure laminates appear to be a two step wear layer process. First the Kraft paper type sheets are glued together along with the print film, then this is glued to the core, and everything is bonded together under pressure. Although high pressure laminates are extremely durable, and hard, it does open the door to possible delamination of one of the underlying carrier sheets. Both types of laminate flooring make an extremely hard surface that resists scratching, denting, sunlight fading, and even cigarette burns!

Most of the cores appear to be made of some type of fiber board, or even particle board, and are saturated in resins to make them extremely hard. This allows the planks to be cut with a tongue and groove for ease of installation. Although the core materials are saturated in resins, the planks can still swell from excessive amounts of moisture. Thus most laminate floor manufacturers do not suggest using their floors in high moisture areas of a home, including bathrooms. Due to the special construction of Formica Flooring, Formica has just announced that their laminate floors can go in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, as long as you follow their recommended installation procedures.

Underneath the core lies another layer, which appears to help stabilize the entire plank and in most cases acts as another barrier from moisture trying to enter from below. Most manufacturers appear to saturate this bottom layer with resins to resist moisture, as well as, make the product more dimensionally stable. This resin filled bottom layer is the main reason these floors cannot be glued directly to the sub floor.


Laminate Flooring Installation Tips

Since every laminate flooring manufacturer has their own installation procedures, Floor Search strongly recommends you read, and follow, the manufacturer's installation procedures. For instance, how the glue is applied varies between manufacturers. Some say apply just on the tongue, some say apply on both the top of the tongue and the bottom of the groove, and some say apply just on the groove. What seems to be common among all manufacturers is you must use their recommended products, in order to not void their warranty.

Although each manufacturer has their own guidelines, there are a few things common among all. First, you must have a level, no bounce sub floor to lay the planks over. For instance, if you have a 3/4" tongue and groove OSB sub floor with slight peaking at the joints, and you install over this, you will eventually find your laminate planks opening at the seams. Worse yet, you may have a great deal of trouble getting the planks to fit together properly. When a wood sub floor shows peaking at the joints, they must first be sanded down level and a moisture test should be done to see if the sub floor has a high content of moisture, which could cause more board swelling and joint peaking. Some installers are even attaching 1/4" wood underlayment (exterior grade) over the top of the sanded OSB to ensure a smooth, level, and no bounce substrate to lay the laminate planks over. What ever you do, follow the manufacturer's installation procedures.

With all the resins saturating both the core and the wear layer, these floors can withstand considerable force from the top down, but are very brittle along the edges of the planks. In other words, a soup can dropped on top of these floors may not leave a dent, but a hammer blow to the tongue while installing will most definitely chip the plank.

All the laminate floors must be allowed to acclimate to their final surroundings. Since laminate floors can swell in the presence of moisture, the boards must be taken to the job site 2-3 days prior to the job and allowed to acclimate to the surrounding environment. If this is not done you may experience a problem getting the planks to fit together properly, or the floor may buckle in extremely humid conditions.

A common problem among first time laminate flooring installers is applying too much glue to planks. If you have applied excessive amounts of glue, as you try to push the two planks together the glue will actually act as a barrier not allowing the tongue to be fully inserted into the groove. This leads to the unsightly looking open seams. At the same time, too little glue will not allow the boards to be secured properly and will not seal the joints from moisture trying to enter from above, such as spills. This is one of the reasons we recommend having your laminate floor professional installed. The installer who is accustomed to installing these floors will know where to cut the tip of the glue bottle and how much glue to apply.


Frequently Asked Questions

How do you clean a laminate floor?

Generally all that is required is vacuuming, dust mopping, and maybe a damp towel at times. Read the manufacturer's recommended cleaning procedures for further details.

When installing the planks why don't they go together tightly?

Every manufacturer's tongue and groove are manufactured slightly different. So to answer this correctly we must first explain a couple of things. Some manufacturer's use a loose tolerance when cutting the tongue and grooves, which means you are supposed to fill the groove full of glue. Other manufacturer's use a very tight tolerance when making the tongue and grooves, such as Formica Flooring, and Mannington Laminate Flooring. When installing Formica's, or Mannington's, laminate flooring if you apply to much glue to the tongue and groove your planks will come apart due to the back pressure of the excessive glue inside the groove. One thing to point out, we feel a tight fitting tongue and groove construction is superior over the life of a laminate floor. Before installing any planks, (even before buying), we recommend dry fitting some boards together to see how tight they fit together. Also, please remember to follow the manufacturer's recommended installation instructions.

Besides back pressure from glue, planks may not fit well together if the tongues have been damaged. If you use a tapping block to close planks together be careful not to damage the edge you are contacting.

Another reason planks may not go together tightly may be caused by unevenness in the subfloor, or failing to properly acclimate the planks to the environment that they are being installed in. The boxes of planks need to be left on the job site, in the room they are being installed, for at least 48 hours prior to the actual installation.

Do you have to use the manufacturer's padding under the floor?

From what we have been told and read, you should always install the manufacturer's padding underneath the laminate flooring, no matter what the sub floor type is. The two-in-one type padding is the best because they help reduce the noise levels when walking on a laminate floor and they act as a moisture barrier besides.

If I chip or scratch the flooring are there tools to repair it?

Fortunately, there are tools available to repair laminate floors. Formica Flooring offers a wide variety of tools, including Patchal pencils to help hide scratches and an electric knife with burn-in sticks to repair chips. They also have a how to repair you Formica Flooring video. These are all available through your Formica Flooring retailer.


We would like to thank John Simonson for the above article. Please visit his website at www.floorsearch.com


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